Civil society welcomes initiative promoting gender-inclusive spaces in education
- CALS, Section27 and the Centre for Child Law
Civil society welcomes Department of Basic Education initiative towards inclusive educational spaces regardless of gender or sexual orientation
CALS, SECTION27 and the Centre for Child Law (CCL) recently made a submission to the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Draft Guidelines for the Socio-Educational Inclusion of Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in schools. We welcome the DBE’s Draft Guidelines, which aim to enhance the rights to equality, dignity, freedom of expression, and basic education for all SOGIESC learners.
The submissions endorse the Draft Guidelines, but we have recommended that the DBE adopt them as regulations rather than guidelines. Doing so will ensure stronger enforceability to protect the rights of SOGIESC learners as regulations would be binding on schools and would be mandatory for schools to implement.
The Draft Guidelines provide guidance on inclusivity in curriculum, all-gender bathrooms, gender affirming health care and gender affirming practices (or social transitioning) and sports. The Constitution protects the right to equality and the right not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender. Yet, those who identify beyond stereotypical gender norms remain vulnerable as they face discrimination, violence and harassment daily.
Our submission welcomes the introduction of all-gender bathrooms and change rooms to minimise bullying and victimisation of SOGIESC learners in schools. The Draft Guidelines also state that binary toilets are retained, and all-gender toilets would be an addition to existing toilets. We encourage the Draft Guidelines to ensure that there is no othering in the creation of these bathrooms by placing the all-gender bathrooms near the binary bathrooms.
South Africa is a country still plagued by deep inequality with many provincial education departments facing a sanitation crisis, the main priority being the eradication of pit toilets. We therefore call on DBE to continue to address the sanitation crisis in the country but at the same time roll-out all-gender bathrooms to ensure the safety of all learners.
We disagreed with the stance taken by the DBE in relation to sport. We are of the view that the clause is overbroad and would deepen discrimination towards SOGIESC learners. We further call on the DBE to ensure training of all relevant stakeholders to ensure the protection of SOGIESC learners and to create a safe and inclusive environment.
We draw the DBE’s attention to Gender Responsive Budgeting and recommend that they apportion a budget to address the gender disparities in our schools. South Africa’s budget has faced criticism for its failure to allocate funding in a manner that reflects diverse social identities, which further entrenches the inequalities that we as a country aspire to overcome. Chronic underspending within the context of basic education is an unfortunate recurrence in South Africa.
In 2021/22, provincial education departments in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga forfeited more than R400-million that was meant for school infrastructure projects. So, while considering inclusive budgeting and budget allocations in the context of all-gender bathrooms, it is crucial to not only consider the amount of money allocated but the quality of spending as well.
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